By Ashley Hooker, Crosswalk.com
Have you ever heard someone say the road to hell is paved with good intentions? This phrase is commonly stated in our society today. It has the connotation that even though you didn’t mean for something to happen; it happened anyway.
The good intentions we have are also connected to our walk of faith. It is easy to find yourself in a place where you are spending more time trying to do good works and less time deepening your relationship with God. For some people, good works can become a stumbling block to knowing Christ at all.
I want to explore what this phrase truly means and what the Bible says about it. We will also discuss its origin and how we can reserve our spot in the Lamb’s book of life.
What Does "The Road to Hell Is Paved with Good Intentions" Mean?
I remember sitting in a little white church when I was about seven years old and listening to a fire and brimstone message from the pulpit. The preacher repeated this phrase many times throughout his sermon. As a child, I did not understand what he was talking about, but as I grew up, I learned.
My parents did their best to teach me right from wrong. I knew I was not to kill others, lie to my parents, or make fun of my schoolmates. I hold these lessons true today. Even so, my morally right life was not going to get me to heaven. I cannot depend on being a good person to keep me out of hell.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions means that people want to do the right thing and obey all the rules. It suggests that people are not aware of their sin nature and believe if they are good, there is a reward waiting for them. They believe that whatever good work they perform will result in good things.
Their good intentions don’t guarantee a signature in the Lamb’s book of life. We must remember the only way to heaven is by repenting of our sins and accepting the Lord in our hearts and lives.
Our good intentions have no power in the realm of glory.
What Is the Origin of the Phrase "The Road to Hell Is Paved with Good Intentions”?
This phrase is noted as an English proverb that has a murky history. It is believed that Bernard of Clairvaux was the first person to speak the quote, but that is debatable. Bernard was a Catholic abbot of the Cistercian order in the twelfth century. He is remembered as being a strict man that ran a tight ship.
Later, in 1670, there was an iteration of this quote published in “A Collection of English Proverbs” by John Ray. This iteration is noted in his biography, as the words used by Samuel Johnson, a notable English author.
C.S. Lewis also used a variation of this quote in his work “The Screwtape Letters” when Uncle Screwtape writes, “Indeed the safest road to hell is the gradual one.”
Today, we read and hear this quote regularly, but does the Bible include it?
Does the Bible Ever Say This Phrase (or Something Similar)?
Many phrases are found in the Bible, but the one we are focused on is not. This phrase is one that has evolved out of biblical lessons. For example, in Mark 10:17-27, we read the account of Jesus speaking with a rich young man. This young man has asked Jesus how he is to inherit eternal life. He declares he has kept the commandments since he was a boy. But Jesus asks him to obey one certain command; sell all your possessions and give to the poor.
The young man walks away from this encounter sad. He believed if he kept the commandments, he would enter the gates of heaven one day. His actions are exactly what our phrase is referring to. We live our lives trying to be morally good, but that is not all it takes to follow Jesus.
In Luke 9:57-62, Jesus tells his disciples that to follow him we must sacrifice ourselves and our lives. The men Jesus was speaking with had good intentions. They only wanted to bury their dead and say goodbye to their families.
Ultimately, we learn there can be no, "let me do this first and then I will follow you." We have to act immediately. Our intentions, however good they may be, are not good enough because we are sinful people. So sinful that it took the sacrifice of God’s son to give us the gift of eternal life.
In Proverbs 14:12 we find these words, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end, it leads to death.” I agree that doing good things for others is right. Having good intentions is okay. The issue is that Satan can easily use those good works to keep you from God, and in the end, death is all that’s left.
Is “The Road to Hell Is Paved with Good Intentions” Biblical?
As I stated before, this phrase is one that has come from the mouths of humans, not Christ. It reminds us that we can work hard and have every intention to succeed, but it may not happen. We can do all the good deeds in the world, but they will not get us to heaven.
Humans are born into sin. We don’t have to teach our children how to be bad, we have to teach them how to be good. Romans 3:23 tells us that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. There is no amount of moral purity worthy of heaven. There is no way we can earn our way there. Our sin only gives us a ticket to hell.
In John 14:6, Jesus says, “He is the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” These words clarify how we get to heaven. We must believe in God alone. Nowhere in the scriptures does it say we can use our good works alone to enter heaven’s gates.
Entering heaven's gates requires faith. Our faith and love for Christ will give us the desire to do good works. James said faith without works is dead. The faith comes first, then the action. When we live morally good lives and do good works before knowing the Lord, we are no closer to heaven than we were in the beginning.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions is a phrase not written in the Bible. It is an old English proverb that has a biblical message. That message is our hope. It is about knowing the consequences of not accepting the Savior and living in obedience to Him.
There are good people that unfortunately will spend eternity in hell if we don’t share with them the way, the truth, and the life. It shows us that God looks at the intentions of our hearts. He wants our ultimate intention to be about living a life that glorifies Him.
This phrase is our reminder that we are called to share the gospel message with all we meet and stop the construction happening on the road to hell.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Rasica
Ashley Hooker is a freelance writer who spends her time homeschooling her two children, ministering alongside her husband as he pastors a rural church in West Virginia, and writing about her faith. Currently, she is a contributing author for Journey Christian magazine. She has taken part in mission trips with the NC Baptist Men during the devastation of Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey in Mississippi and Texas. In her local church, she has served on various committees focusing in the area of evangelism along with traveling to West Virginia and Vermont to share the Gospel. Her dream is to spend her time writing and sharing the love of Christ with all she meets.